Gila County’s dangerous surge in COVID cases has leveled off, but remains far higher than the state and national averages.

However, new infections in Payson’s four school campuses jumped 59% from Tuesday to Wednesday, as the district caught up with new cases contracted over the long holiday weekend.

In the past two weeks, Arizona has reported a 4% increase in average daily new cases. The state’s infection rate is 43 per 100,000 — just above the national average of 40 per 100,000. By contrast, the hot spot states have infection rates between 50 and 107 per 100,000, including South Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Wyoming, Tennessee, Texas and Georgia. Most of those states have vaccination rates far below the national average.

Gila County still had the second highest infection rate in the state early this week — 72 per 100,000 — nearly twice the state average. This reflects a relatively low vaccination rate. However, the number of new cases has actually declined by 4% as a daily average over the past two weeks. Only neighboring Graham County had a higher infection rate at 106 per 100,000.

Payson had the highest number of new cases in the county in the period from Aug. 28 to Sept. 3 — 85 out of the 267 non-reservation cases in the county. Pine had five, Star Valley two and Tonto Basin three.

Countywide, 91 of the new cases were reported among people younger than 19 — a sharp contrast to the last spike in cases in January.

The Gila County Health Department has now scheduled a vaccination clinic at Payson High School in Wilson Dome for Sept. 15. To schedule an appointment call 928-910-4001, option 1. Teenagers aged 12 to 17 can now get the shot, but must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Schools continue to struggle with the impact of the Delta variant, which spreads readily among children — although it’s much less likely to cause serious illness in the young. However, this year the virus has spread from child to child on campus in Payson — which means it can then spread from school out into the community.

As of Wednesday, 108 students and 12 staff have tested positive. That represents a 59% jump between Tuesday and Wednesday when the district updated the numbers from the holiday weekend. So while the number of new cases has slowed in the community, infections in the schools continue to accelerate.

Another 786 students and three staff now rank as close contact — an increase of 200 student close contacts between Tuesday and Wednesday. All those students must quarantine for 10 days, according to the new district policy on close contacts. Some of those close contacts may be double-counted if they had close contact with more than one infected student.

Unvaccinated students and faculty who are close contacts must quarantine for 10 days. However, people who have gotten their shots can continue to attend class so long as they don’t develop COVID symptoms.

Fortunately, the increasing number of clusters on campus pose a much greater risk for unvaccinated teachers, staff and family members than for the kids themselves, according to a growing body of research on the impact of COVID infections on children.

That’s why the federal Centers for Disease Control has concluded that in-person class remains safe — providing schools take precaution like requiring masks indoors when students can’t socially distance. However, the Arizona Legislature has barred districts from requiring masks — or requiring teachers and staff to get vaccinated.

The Delta variant has put a question mark alongside some of the reassuring research on COVID and kids. Kids account for a much higher percentage of cases now. However, that could simply reflect vaccination rates among adults. Only 9% of Gila County residents younger than 20 are vaccinated, compared to 55% of those 55 to 64 and 71% of those older than 65. The county’s teen vaccination rate is about half the statewide average.

So here’s some of the recent research on why kids so rarely get seriously ill and how schools can operate safely. Most of these examples come from a research review published in the scientific journal Nature.

• COVID accounted for just 25 deaths among people younger than 18 in England between March of 2020 and February of 2021. About half of those deaths involved children with underlying problems, such as use of a feeding tube or trouble breathing. That compares to 3,105 total deaths among teens and children, which means the COVID death rate for children was 2 per million.

• A study of COVID-related deaths among children in seven countries documented 231 deaths between March 2020 and February 2021. The U.S. has reported 471 deaths among teens and children as of June.

• An analysis of 57 studies in 19 countries found a very low risk of death among children with COVID, although things like obesity, heart problems or neurological conditions increased the risk. The team looked at 6,338 hospital admissions for COVID and found 259 children and teens treated in intensive care units.

• Children apparently avoid serious illness because they rely on what’s called the “innate immune system.” This immune system response relies more heavily on fast-acting, generalized cells triggered by interferon. Adults have a slower, more specialized immune response that relies on the memory cells of the immune system. Those studies suggest children do develop high viral loads and can therefore pass the infection along — but their fast-acting immune response apparently works better against COVID.

• Doctors still worry about long-COVID symptoms that develop in about 14% of young people who test positive for the virus. In addition, some 3 out of 10,000 infected children and teens develop MIS-C, with often serious and sometimes fatal side effects. The inflammatory reaction may stem from an immune system over-reaction to an infection — in both children and adults.

• Worldwide, some 770 million children were still not in school full time by the end of June 2021. Some 150 million children in 19 countries had no access to online learning when schools closed. An estimated 24 million children will simply drop out of school before finishing as a result of the pandemic, according to estimates by the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO.

• A study in the U.S. tracked 90,000 students and teachers in North Carolina for nine weeks last autumn. Based on the community rate of transmission, researchers would have expected to see 900 cases in that population. Instead, schools reported just 32 cases. That picture may have changed now that the Delta variant has become established nationwide.

• A study of 17 schools in rural Wisconsin documented 191 COVID cases in staff and students in a 13-week period last autumn. Only 7 of those cases appeared to have originated on campus — as opposed to students who got infected at home.

• Researchers in Norway conducted exhaustive testing of 13 confirmed COVID cases in children aged 5-13 in school. The researchers tested 300 of their close contacts. They found that about 1% of the child close contacts and 2% of the adult close contacts got infected — although that was before Delta entered the scene.

• A study in Salt Lake City tested 700 students and staff who had come in contact with 51 positive cases among students. Just 12 of those close contacts tested positive. Only five of the 12 infections were school-related — suggesting that students don’t readily spread the virus at school. However, the schools in question took protective measures, like requiring masks and social distancing.

• A study in Israel found the virus spread quickly on campus when school relaxed protective measures. Two students had 1,200 close contacts. Between 13% and 17% of those contacts tested positive. The cluster developed in May 2020, before vaccines slowed the rate of spread — but also before Delta. The outbreak took place during a heat wave when schools allowed students to stop wearing masks and shut the doors and windows to use the air conditioning — which recirculated the air.

• Studies in Germany, France, Ireland, Australia, Singapore and the U.S. have all shown very low rates of spread on school campuses — particularly with the use of masks, social distancing and circulation of fresh air in classrooms.

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(9) comments

Jeff Robbins

Stop Free Riding

Promoting vaccination is an important goal in public health policy. However, Covid 19 vaccination coverage in the United States is still far below the public policy goal. Vaccination may be discouraged by the incentive to “free-ride”. Referred to herein as “free-riders” in vaccination, these individuals avoid the cost associated with vaccination while benefiting from other individuals' vaccination.

Vaccination for infectious diseases produces herd immunity, providing indirect benefit to unvaccinated individuals. As the result of herd immunity, the risk of infection for an individual depends on other individuals' vaccination status; risk of infection generally decreases as the vaccination coverage in a community increases regardless of an individual's vaccination status.

The free rider problem can crop up when the resource is shared by all and free to all. Like air. If a community sets voluntary pollution standards that encourage all residents to cut back on carbon-based fuels, many will respond positively. But some will refuse to make any change in their habits. If enough follow the standards, the air quality will improve, and all the residents will benefit equally, even the free riders.

Free riders can be forced to contribute to the public good, which is essentially what school-entry immunization mandates do in the case of herd immunity against vaccine-preventable diseases.

People do things for their own selfish reasons, not your reasons. Herd immunity against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases is a public good—one that is created by self-interest but cannot be maintained by self-interest. It is also a “last mile” problem: Vaccine coverage is generally very good but reaching those few who resist is difficult. Indeed, it is the last mile of herd immunity that is the most fragile, where self-interest begins to create free-riding defectors rather than pro-social contributors.

The concern of the government for the health, peace, morality, and safety of its citizens. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution cites promotion of the general welfare as a primary reason for the creation of the Constitution.

What exactly is "the common good," ability to discern and act on what’s in our common interest depends on believing that we, as Americans, all have something in common. “We the People”

I would argue that if you are unwilling to make the sacrifice a simple shot or wear a thin mask for the common good “We the People” you are selfish free rider, politically manipulated, misinformed and unconstitutional.

Jeff Robbins

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The concern of the government for the health, peace, morality, and safety of its citizens. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution cites promotion of the general welfare as a primary reason for the creation of the Constitution

What exactly is "the common good," ability to discern and act on what’s in our common interest depends on believing that we, as Americans, all have something in common.

The problem encountered by proponents of the common good is what is sometimes called the "freerider problem." The benefits that a common good provides are, as we noted, available to everyone, including those who choose not to do their part to maintain the common good. Individuals can become "free riders" by taking the benefits the common good provides while refusing to do their part to support the common good. An adequate water supply, for example, is a common good from which all people benefit. But to maintain an adequate supply of water during a drought, people must conserve water, which entails sacrifices. Some individuals may be reluctant to do their share, however, since they know that so long as enough other people conserve, they can enjoy the benefits without reducing their own consumption. If enough people become free riders in this way, the common good which depends on their support will be destroyed. Many observers believe that this is exactly what has happened to many of our common goods, such as the environment or education, and health where the reluctance of all persons to support efforts to maintain the health of these systems has led to their virtual collapse.

Steve Brule

If all the anti vaxxers truly don't believe in medical science then they need to stay home when they get covid really don't go to a doctor you've already proven you don't have faith in them so put your money where your mouth is.

Phil Mason

I LOVE vaccines!! The only vaccine I fought was the inoculation required at the age of 4.

What I do not support is mRNA nano technology that sickens and kills healthy people.

The real answer is if you believe masks and mRNA protects you, do both 100%. If you are right, you will be protected from the unmasked and non mRNA. If you are wrong, you will probably get infected and may die.

I on the other hand believe in scientifically proven solutions that have stood the test of time. Ivermectin, Hydroxychlorophine, Quercetin, Azithromycin, Zinc, Vitamin D3, Vitamin C, etc. At least they will not kill me when I do not have the virus.

I put my money in proven medicines that have not been foisted on the public for political reasons without the standard protocols. If I am right, I will be OK.

I guess time will prove who is right.

John Adams

I believe in the scientists & doctor’s who’re saying just the opposite of what you’re saying here! You’ve simply bought into Bill Gates, Fauci, the communist left planners of “Event 201”! The true facts are it’s those who took the shots who’re filling up the hospitals & are the super spreaders!

Phil Mason

A few quick questions:

1. Has any PUSD student been hospitalized from verified COVID infection?

2. Has any PUSD staff been hospitalized from COVID transmitted on campus?

3. Has anyone noticed there have been ZERO reports of the flu in the last year?

3. The NIH cannot report Delta variant #s while the MSM promotes a surge?

4. The Delta be more transmissible but it is less virulent with lower mortality risks.

and last:

5. How many students out sick this year compared to the avg over the last decade?

Steve Brule

Phil you're not a doctor stop trying to act like you are with your misinformation. A quick Google search and some critical thinking would show you that the flu has been all but squashed due to *gasp* people wearing masks what a crazy concept!

Phil Mason

Obviously you are unable parse a sentence and make the distinction between giving information (mis or not) and asking questions. I made one statement that came from the NIH/CDC. All of the other items were questions.

Based on your comment, I gather you are of the opinion that only doctors can ask questions. That seems rather idiotic, but if that is your belief, you are welcome to it. As to critical thinking, it requires asking questions not simply blurting out personal nonsensical ad hominem attacks. You should try it sometime.

Phil Mason


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